Swiss auction house Koller holds an extensive Old Masters auction on September 23 with lots ranging from an Italian Renaissance bridal cassone panel, exquisite Dutch Still Life paintings and seasonal allegories to drawings signifying the Tulip Mania in the 17th century.
Art and Love:
Old Masters are making a comeback at Koller this September. The Italian Renaissance is represented with impressive works by artists such as Tommaso di Credi, Giuliano di Amadeo, and Andrea Manzini (known as Andrea di Giusto), but one rare and beautiful panel is particularly outstanding: a reclining Venus with Cupid in a landscape by Paolo Schiavo. Dating from the beginning of the Italian Renaissance, circa 1440-45, the panel’s original function was as an interior panel of a marriage coffer, or cassone, made to hold a bride’s trousseau, of which relatively few survive today. Bridal chests, or “Cassoni”, were coffers in which the bride brought her personal belongings to her married home. Holding treasured textiles, clothes and other valuables, these were important prestige items in domestic spaces, hence the exquisite decoration. They also had a symbolic meaning to serve as an auspicious item and guarantee the fruitfulness of a marriage. The subject of the paintings inside therefore consist of motifs that alluded to the love and fertility in marriage, such as putti and amoretti, as well as lightly dressed or nude elongated male and female figures, just as the painting here which depicts Venus and Cupid. The belief was that these beautiful and auspicious images had an influence on the feelings of the bride when the chest was opened in private and the paintings were revealed. In this panel, Venus is draped in a transparent veil in front of a beautiful blue sky with clouds. She is reclined on three “intimelle” cushions and gently holds the end of a flower garland resembling a marriage belt, which is held at the other end by a red-winged Cupid.
Once owned by J. Paul Getty Museum, this panel was last seen by the public in the exhibition “Art and Love in Renaissance Italy” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Haarlem Still Life:
Sought after both by affluent collectors and museums, Dutch Still Life paintings from 17th century have a special place among Old Masters. This example by Pieter Claesz is a testament to Haarlem style. Haarlem was among the most important art centres in Holland during the early 17th century. Many artists emigrated from Flanders to the Netherlands at this time, whether because of their Protestant beliefs or due to the poor economic climate there, attracted by the commercial prosperity and growing affluence of the Dutch, particularly in Haarlem. The favourable economic conditions stimulated the rise of a prosperous middle class in Haarlem, ultimately creating a significant consumer base for the arts.
Into this society Pieter Claesz. settled in 1620-22. Born in Berchem near Antwerp in 1597, Claesz. was almost certainly trained as an artist within the circles of the Antwerp still life painters Osias Beert (ca. 1580-1623) and Clara Peeters (active 1607-1621 or later), and the influence of their work is evident in his early paintings. Once in Haarlem, his work began to show the influence of the older generation of still life painters there, such as Floris van Dijck (1575-1651), Nicolaes Gillis (ca. 1575/80 – after 1632) and Floris van Schooten (ca. 1580-1656).
Banketje or Banquet still lifes, which typically depict a meal amidst an arrangement of tableware, were a speciality of Netherlandish painting during the Golden Age, particularly in Haarlem, and were in great demand during the 17th century. The large museum-quality work offered here, which has not been available for public viewing for quite some time, is a good example. It is also of the toebackje, or smoking paraphernalia is depicted alongside a large pewter flagon on a plate, a knopped beer glass, a sliced herring, bread and a knife, all arranged on a table.Along with textile manufacturers, breweries were especially successful, and beer was the most common drink, since drinking water was often contaminated at this time. Particularly interesting is the monochrome tonality of this work, composed primarily of brown and grey tones and uniquely articulated through dramatically staged light. This reduced palette is a particular characteristic of Claesz.’s Haarlem still lifes. The depiction of the smoker’s requisites is considered to be an artistic invention of Claesz.’s, as these motifs first appeared in his work as early as 1622.
Allegories of Months:
Suites of allegorical paintings representing the months of the year by Antwerp master Abel Grimmer (ca. 1570 – ca. 1620) are hard to come across on the market. Only three complete series of the twelve months by Grimmer are known to exist, and the set of five to be offered by Koller consists of February, March, April, October and December. The rest of this suite – except November – was recently sold on the French market. Treasured by the same family for over 300 years, the works carry the inscription on verso: ABEL GRIMMER 1609 with a red wax seal.
These watercolours from the Old Master Drawings auction at Koller, are from a prestigious Rhineland collection, are witness to one of the most extraordinary periods in both horticultural and economic history. The tulip mania started in early 17th century Holland with a sharp increase in prices for tulip bulbs, which not only gave rise to possibly the first economic bubble in history, but also to a series of beautiful watercolours, illustrations to catalogues identifying types of flowers for purchase.
Tulips began to be regularly cultivated in Holland from about 1600 after being brought from the Ottoman Empire. The popularity of this flower coincided with the recent independence of the Netherlands and the rising wealth of its middle class, and tulips soon took on the character of a status symbol. From 1634, demand for certain types of tulips began to rise dramatically and a futures trade was established (possibly the first of its kind), which further encouraged speculation, soon driving prices to dizzying heights: single bulbs sometimes sold for more than the price of a house.Painters such as Anthony Claesz, Jacob Marrell, and Pieter Holsteyn the Younger were hired to illustrate particular types of tulips so that growers could show them to prospective buyers. This was especially important as the fanciful names given to each tulip specimen (often preceded by titles such as Generael or Admirael) were sometimes assigned to similar types, or more than one name was given to the same type. These beautiful illustrations were bound into “tulip books” and shown to clients who then placed their orders based on them.
Naturally, like all economic hysteria, the tulip bubble eventually burst, and by late 1637 some prices had fallen as low as 5% of their original value.